Didiya sat on the bank of the rising river, looking down into the murky water. It was the rainy season in Kenya, Africa, and the eight-year-old girl waited and watched for the danger she knew would come—danger to the women who came to dip water into their earthen jars and danger to the cattle the herd boys brought here to drink.
The valley people passing saw her and said, “Ah, Didiya is watching today. She’ll let us know when the danger comes.”
Now, as Didiya bent forward, watching the water intently, she thought of her father and the days when they had watched the water together.
The girl’s thoughts were interrupted when a neighbor came by with a bowl of hot gruel. “Morning greeting, Didiya. I’ve brought you some food. You must be hungry, for you’ve been watching since daybreak.”
“Morning greeting, Auntie,” she said. “Yes, I am hungry. Thank you. I’ll let you know when the danger comes.”
“Yes, I know you will,” the neighbor said and returned to her home.
A sudden shadow moved swiftly below the water’s surface. Didiya leaned over to look more closely. A second shadow followed, then a third.
One shadow rose to the surface and a snout appeared, then a scaly head. The danger was here!
Didiya scrambled to her feet and ran shouting, “The crocodiles have come! The crocodiles have come!”
A woman had started toward the river, carrying an empty water jar on her head. “Stop!” a neighbor called. “The crocodiles have come.”
The woman, a newcomer in the valley, shouted back, “How do you know?”
“Didiya has warned us. She saw them in the stream,” the neighbor said. “They come every year when the water is high.”
“Who’s Didiya?” the newcomer asked, ignoring the warning and continuing on toward the river, but more slowly.
“She’s the girl who has been watching for the crocodiles since daybreak,” the neighbor said, walking toward the woman. “Didn’t you hear her shout a warning as she ran by us?”
The newcomer stopped now and put her water jar on the ground. “If I can’t dip water here, where can I fill my jar?”
“You’ll have to go up the valley to the nearest well.”
“But that’s a mile from here,” she objected. “How long will I have to carry water from there?”
“Until Didiya tells us that the crocodiles have gone. They won’t stay after the water goes down,” the neighbor explained.
“Why does Didiya watch for the crocodiles?” the woman asked.
“Her father began watching years ago, after crocodiles had dragged most of his cattle into the water. He didn’t want to lose any more cattle, and he wanted to protect his neighbors’ herds too. When Didiya was big enough, she sat with him to watch. Two years ago he went to Lagos, Nigeria, to find work, hoping to save enough money to come home and buy more cattle. When her father left, Didiya took over the job of watching for the crocodiles.”
While the women talked, Didiya ran upstream as far as the district school, calling out the danger to the valley people. At the school she asked the teacher to tell the pupils.
“You’re a good girl to watch every year and warn us,” he said. “Don’t you want to come to school? You’re old enough now.”
“Oh, I’d love to! But who would watch for the crocodiles?” she asked. “Besides, Grandfather doesn’t have the money to pay the school fee and buy a school uniform for me.”
“Your father wants you to go to school,” the teacher said. “He talked to me about it before he left, and he has been sending me a little money toward your schooling every month. It isn’t enough yet, but maybe we can think of some way for you to come to school.”
Didiya smiled her appreciation, then turned and ran toward the more distant pastures, shouting her warning, “The crocodiles have come!”
“Morning greeting, Didiya,” the herders called. “You’re a good girl to warn us.”
When the people of her part of the valley had been warned, Didiya sat down under a baobab tree to rest. Now there was time to think about what the teacher had said. She looked down at her bead-trimmed dress and thought with longing of the uniforms the girls at school wore, the lovely blue jumpers and white blouses. With pockets!
Because she was tired and felt so comfortable between two high roots of the tree, Didiya fell asleep. Later the sound of rain falling on the tree’s leaves awakened her. She looked up into the branches, thinking about this curious tree with wrinkled bark that looked like the skin of an old elephant and its branches that looked like roots sticking up in the air.
Suddenly she heard shouts coming from the direction of the watering place. A herd boy from another part of the valley had brought his cattle to drink there, and his biggest, strongest steer had waded out into the stream and had started to drink. A crocodile had grabbed the steer by the mouth and nose and tried to pull it into the water. But the steer had pulled harder than the crocodile, which was now slowly being pulled onto the shore.
People came with heavy sticks and hit the crocodile, but their blows didn’t hurt its scale-covered back. However, the dry land was not as pleasing to the reptile as the water, so it released its hold on the steer and crawled back into the river. The steer shook his head and bellowed with pain. Gathering his thirsty cattle together, the herd boy drove them farther up the valley to water at a shallow, safe place.
The day after the crocodiles appeared, all the pupils at the school were asked to gather on the playground. They brought their mats, which they had made of yellow grass in the handwork class, and sat on the ground. After a prayer, the teacher read to them the Apostle Paul’s words about bearing one another’s burdens. Then he said, “I chose these words because of Didiya, who warns us every year of the crocodiles. She, and her father before her, have borne a burden for us when they have watched the river for danger and have warned us. Nobody told them to do it, and nobody pays them for their efforts. Who can say how many cattle have been saved or what injuries our people have been spared by heeding their warnings?
“Yesterday I asked Didiya if she would like to come to school. She said, ‘But who would warn the people of the crocodiles?’ I told her that a plan could be worked out for that. Then she said that her grandfather couldn’t pay her school fee or buy her a uniform.
“Didiya’s father has sent me some money toward her school expenses, but it isn’t enough. It seems to me that we’ve let Didiya bear our burden long enough and that it’s time for us to bear hers. Two things have come to my mind: One is that we work out a plan for taking turns watching the river during the rainy seasons. The other is that we give the people of the valley a chance to repay Didiya by contributing enough money so that she can come to school. Will you talk this over with your families and neighbors, and let me know how they feel?”
The villagers enthusiastically agreed to the teacher’s plan. Soon there was enough money to pay the rest of the school fee and to buy the uniform. Didiya went to the valley store and bought the blue and white fabrics. Then she took them to the tailor, who sat at his sewing machine on the store porch.
“Don’t forget the pockets,” she said to the tailor.
“You don’t need to tell me how to do my work,” the tailor said teasingly. “I’ve been making uniforms ever since the school started. I’d never forget the pockets!”
The next time the school drum sounded from up the valley, Didiya was ready, dressed in her new uniform. For her lunch she carried a boiled sweet potato wrapped in a banana leaf in one pocket. In another pocket she had a small wooden deer that her grandfather had carved as a present for the teacher. The happy girl beamed as all along the way her friends called out, “Morning greeting, Didiya.”